Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

58 Smuggled Immigrants Die in Hot Truck 2 Survive; Britain Launches Inquiry

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

58 Smuggled Immigrants Die in Hot Truck 2 Survive; Britain Launches Inquiry

Article excerpt

DOVER, England -- Britain launched a major inquiry yesterdayMON into "the profoundly evil" crime syndicates that smuggle immigrants after 58 people -- thought to be Chinese -- were found dead in the unrefrigerated, sealed compartment of a tomato truck.

Two men huddled near the door at the back of the Dutch-registered truck survived the five-hour journey across the English Channel, from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge to the southeast port of Dover.

Too traumatized to be questioned immediately, the survivors were hospitalized at a secret location for fear they would be abducted or killed before identifying the agents who sold them their deadly, illicit passage to the West.

In London, Home Secretary Jack Straw said the 54 men and four women had died "a most terrible death," victims of crime syndicates that make millions from immigrant smuggling.

"Let no one be in any doubt that this is a profoundly evil trade whose perpetrators have no regard for human life," Straw told the House of Commons. "We have been determined to crack down on this trade."

The National Crime Squad, a police body, will lead the drive to catch the traffickers, working with intelligence, customs and immigration officials. Officials said they will work to increase cooperation between European countries.

The measures will expand on Britain's recent attempts to clamp down on the rising tide of asylum-seekers -- 71,000 last year, compared with 46,000 in 1998. Police and customs officers find up to 2,000 illegal immigrants hidden in trucks at or near British ports each month -- and believe many more slip through.

This year, Britain started imposing fines of $3,000 on truckers for every illegal immigrant found aboard and ended cash social security payments to asylum-seekers.

Officials said they knew only that the smuggled immigrants discovered by British customs officials just before midnight Sunday were Asians, possibly from China. None carried any form of identity. The dead probably suffocated, said Wim de Bruin, spokesman for the Dutch Public Prosecutors Office.

Police arrested the Dutch driver of the 50-foot white Mercedes-Benz truck which, officially, was carrying tomatoes. …

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